If you have your Bibles Id invite you to turn with me to Romans, chapter 1 as we continue to work our way through this great gospel. As Paul describes for us the very heart of the gospel and then expounds it in his letter to the Romans. Over the last couple of weeks, weve seen even in Pauls introductory words that they are filled with the gospel. Paul cant say hello without mentioning the gospel. And in seven verses, ninety-three words, he says hello. Basically, this letter is from me, Paul, to you, the Roman Christians. And yet in the context of that very word of introduction, he manages to stress the authority of the gospel. He characterizes the gospel as something that is rooted in the Old Testament, something that is focused on what God has done and especially on the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the gospel is about something that God has done, not about something that we do. Ultimately, the gospel is about something that God has done outside of us that rescues us from the mess that we have gotten ourselves in. And so all the praise and the glory goes to God and not to ourselves. His focus on the gospel is that it is something that totally transforms us. It makes all the difference in the world. It impacts every aspect of our life. It changes the way we look at ourselves, it changes the way we see our purpose in life, it turns everything upside down and he does this just by way of greetings.
And then last week as we looked at verses 8 through 10, we saw a very short prayer report. Basically Paul is saying, let me tell you a little bit about how I pray for you and what I pray for when I pray for you. And in the context of that prayer report, he manages to mention to the Romans that he has so been interested in being with them that every time that he has prayed, since the time that he has been writing the letter or thinking about them, up until the time that he writes the letter, that he has been praying for them. He has been praying for them constantly. Every time he prays, he prays for them.
Having told them that, and in the verses were going to see today, he elaborates on his specific reason why he so desires to come and see them. And his reasons revealed in these verses tell us not only a lot about the heart of Paul, but they serve as a mirror to our own hearts. They give us an opportunity to reflect and say, "Has the grace of God changed us so that we think like that." How about serving the people of God. With that in mind, lets look at Pauls words, which are really Gods words, in Romans, chapter 1, beginning in verse 11:
"For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the others faith, both yours and mine. And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far) in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus, for my part I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome."
Amen and thus ends this reading of Gods holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Lets pray.
Father, this is Your word, and we ask that by the Spirit today we would not only come to have a greater understanding of what Paul meant when he wrote these words, but that we by the Spirit would be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That we would look at the world differently; that we would look at the church differently; we would look at ourselves differently; but, more than that, that we would look at the Lord Jesus Christ differently because of what the spirit does in our hearts through the word. We ask this earnestly in Jesus name, Amen.
Paul in these verses is going to elaborate on his reasons, which is really one reason, for coming to Rome. Later, by the way, in the book hes going to come back to this again. In Romans, chapter 15 in the verses around verse 24 hes going to talk again about what his agenda was in Rome. But he elaborates on this and in elaborating on why he wants to come to Rome he actually tells us a lot about what our attitudes ought to be to one another in the local church of the Lord Jesus Christ. And what our attitude ought to be to those who are outside of the local church, those who are apart from Christ who arent believers. And so Id like to walk you through this passage today, and Id like you to see four or five things.
I. Paul desires to establish the church by means of spiritual
Now, by the way, you see again even in this first verse that the way a person is established in the faith is dependent upon the work of the spirit. Notice what he says. "That I may impart some spiritual gift to you that you may be established." Establishing a believer in the faith is the work of the Holy Spirit by the means of the Holy Spirit. No human being has the power to establish you in the faith. Just like no human being has the power to convert you. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. And by the way, doesnt that show how Gods sovereignty and mans responsibility goes together so beautifully and naturally in the thinking of the apostle Paul? Paul knows that he cant convert people. Paul knows that he cant even build them up in the faith. Paul knows that it takes spiritual gifts to do that. And yet Paul says, Im eager to come do this. Now thats strange. The Spirit is the one who, through His gifting, establishes us in the faith. And yet Paul says, Im eager to be with you in order that you might be established.
Whats Paul thinking? Paul knows that the ultimate source of spiritual growth and spiritual life is the work of the Holy Spirit. But he also knows that faith comes by hearing. So it is the ministry of the word of God which is the instrument that the Holy Spirit uses in the hearts of His people. And Paul sees no contradiction between those things at all. And so often people who are unfamiliar with Calvinist think well, you know you Calvinists, you believe in Gods sovereignty. And that means that you kind of sit on your hands and let sinners take care of themselves. I mean if Gods chosen them, theyll come to Christ on their own. Theres no need for you to get involved. But thats a parody. It certainly is a parody of what Paul is teaching. Paul says its the Spirit that brings growth, and thats why Im so anxious to be in your midst ministering the word. Because Paul knows that the word is the Spirits ordained choice for how He grows people in the faith. Its the Spirits job to cause them to respond. Its the Spirits job to cause them to grow; but its our responsibility, and frankly, our privilege, to share that word of truth; to be amongst one another encouraging one another in the faith. And the Spirit will use that faithfulness. And so we see the coherence of Gods sovereignty and mans responsibility even in the way Paul talks to the Romans in this little verse.
And we also see by the way that the purpose of spiritual gifts is to establish faith. You know in our day and age, the day and age of the charismatic movement, there is much controversy in the Christian church over the issue of spiritual gifts. But I want you to see one thing. Whatever gift, by the way, that Paul is talking about here, and he doesnt tell us whether hes thinking about an extraordinary gift or an ordinary gift. And there are good arguments for both. He just doesnt say. He says its some spiritual gift that he wants to impart. Whatever that gift is or whatever those gifts are, the apostle Paul sees that the function of those gifts is to do what? To establish faith. So the gifts of the spirit are for the purpose of the fruit of the spirit. The whole purpose of the function of spiritual gifts is to produce spiritual fruit. Thats the goal. Thats the game. Not drawing attention to ourselves, not manifesting signs and wonders for their own sake, but in order that those who are in Christ will grow in faith.
And I want to ask you, friends, do you have the same kind of attitude to the church that the apostle Paul had? When Paul looks at the church, he has a desire to minister. He has a desire to edify. He has a desire to see brothers and sisters rooted and grounded in the faith and built up. Do we have that same desire to minister to one another? Pauls very words of description to the Roman church as to why he wants to come to them are actually an exhortation to us arent they? We ought to have that same kind of attitude about one another. We ought to want to see one another built up in the faith. Do we have that kind of attitude? Do we have the mind of Paul which is really here the mind of Christ. Because it was Jesus who said I came not to be served, but to serve. And Paul is manifesting exactly that same attitude here.
II. Paul reminds us of the mutual encouragement that flows
from selfless service.
The irony of Christian service is that when you die to yourself, you find life. When you give yourself away, you find yourself. When you put yourself last, you find yourself first. Its the irony, its the dynamic of Christian service. When you devote yourself to serving others, you always receive more than you could ever give. And so I want to say as Christians approach the church and feel that the church is not ministering to them as it ought, you know the answer is not for the church to do more for you. The answer is for you to determine that you are going to give yourself away. That you are going to serve, that you are going to minister, to develop a strategy, an agenda, a mindset to minister to give yourself away.
And then in that context you will find that you are given more back than you have ever given. You know that applies to new church members. A lot of times new church members, especially new church members coming into a church this size, can feel like, boy, Im lost. Im overlooked. People dont see me. And they get frustrated. I know no better way to find a place than to give yourself away. As you minister in the context of the local church, you will find that more will give back than you give. And thats a reality that actually impacts every area of our Christian life, every relationship. It might even be a relationship between a husband and a wife. A wife feels neglected, a husband feels neglected. They feel like their spouse doesnt pay them the attention that they ought to pay them, doesnt love them the way they ought to love them. And if that spouse will say I am going to give myself away in selfless service, I promise that they will get back more than they give, not necessarily from their spouse. I dont know that God will change the situation. But I promise you this. God will give back to you more than you are personally capable of giving if you will devote yourself to giving yourself away for someone else. Paul says to the Romans, look, I know that I have something to give you, but you need to understand there are things that you are going to give back to me that I am going to be blessed by. This isnt a one-way transaction, even though I give to you and even though my desire is to come and give to you, I know that the mutual encouragement that youre going to give to me is something that I couldnt get anywhere else in the world. And we know that experience dont we? Havent you been in experiences or situations where there has been someone, and they didnt know what you were going through, but they begin to share a story about how God helped them in a very difficult time. And suddenly you think, Lord, You sent that just for me. You sent that brother and sister who had gone through that just for me to encourage me. I had no idea that anybody else in this congregation had gone through that. And there is someone who went through it, and you brought them through it, and you blessed them anyway. Or maybe its someones self-sacrificial service of you and suddenly you feel like, why are they giving me so much attention? I dont deserve that kind of attention, and yet theyre giving me that kind of attention. And when you set out to bless, youll always find theres a mutual encouragement in the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Calvin once said, "There is no one so void of gifts in the church of Jesus Christ who cannot in some measure contribute to our spiritual progress." And here the apostle Paul, maybe the greatest mind and greatest preacher ever in the Christian church is saying to these Romans Christians, let me tell you, as I come to give to you one of the things thats going to happen is Im going to be blessed by you, and our faith is going to be strengthened together as we fellowship. What an incredible thought, but its true, and we know it dont we?
III. Paul is aiming for Gentile fruit among the Romans.
Here he begins to talk about fruit. Im looking for fruit among you. All of these are synonyms for what Pauls goals are. Paul wants to see people converted to Christ, and he wants to see Christians built up. In other words, his aim is evangelism and edification. He knows that Christian discipleship entails both. It means bringing those into fellowship with Christ that arent in fellowship now. And as they are brought into fellowship with Christ, making them disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because you cant be a follower of Christ and not be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. You cant be saved by Christ and not be a disciple and so His work of edification is going to entail not only bringing people in the kingdom, but building them up in faith. And so Paul here says thats what I want. I want fruit among the Gentiles. And by the way, even in that little phrase at the end of the sentence there in verse 13, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. Paul is telling you something about the Roman church. Hes saying to us sort of parenthetically, you know, these people were predominantly Gentiles. Most of Pauls churches started with a Jewish core. He would go, hed preach in a synagogue for three weeks. At the end of his three weeks of preaching on Saturday in the synagogue, hed say now, anybody who wants to be in a small group bible study see me after the service. And hed gather a little core group, and they would begin to meet in someones home. And that group would build and build and build, and they would make a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And they would become Jewish Christians, Jewish followers of the one true Messiah, and then they would start to reach out to the Gentiles in their area. That way Paul could at least assume that those Christians, those Jewish Christians, had some understanding of Gods word. The Old Testament. And then he could work out to those who didnt have any understanding of Gods Old Testament, the Gentiles in that particular community. And that was the way most of Pauls churches started. But these Christians are apparently predominantly Gentiles. And he speaks to them, I wanted to have fruit among you, just like among the other Gentiles. Because Paul especially had a mission to the Gentiles. Were going to see this Gentile nature of the church in the very next sentence as well. But I want you to see that Pauls goal is to see fruit among these Christians.
I want to ask you this. As you prepare to come to church on the Lords day, as you prepare to come to church on Wednesday night or during the week, as you prepare to fellowship with other Christians who are part of this local church, is it a conscious thought in your mind, is it somewhere on your priority list of agendas that you desire to see fruit amongst them? Is that one of the things you think you know, one of the things as I go to church today is not just that I want to get something out of the sermon or that I want to fellowship with my friends in Sunday School, but Im going to church today with the agenda of blessing and encouraging a fellow Christian and seeing some fruit produced in their lives. Is that something that is on our chart? If our heart is Pauls heart, if our heart is Christs heart, thats one of our hearts. Thats one of our things in our hearts for one another. We are desirous of encouraging and establishing and seeing fruit produced in the lives of one another, determining to bless one another. Paul says when I think about you Roman Christians, I want to see fruit. Thats the way we ought to think. We ought to think how can I encourage that brother? How can I encourage him to produce fruit in his work, in his family? How can I encourage that sister to produce fruit? Paul was looking to see fruit produced among these believers.
IV. Paul, in light of his union with Christ/Christ's
commission, is obligated to take the gospel to Greeks and non-Greeks.
And you say, now wait a second. What had they given to Paul. Why is he a debtor to them? What have they given to him that he now owes something back to them? Well, weve slightly misunderstood, because Paul is not saying that the Greeks and the non-Greeks have given me something and therefore I am a debtor to them. I owe them something. Hes saying something a little different. Hes saying I am a debtor, Im under obligation to everyone. All the Greeks and the non-Greeks, all the Gentiles. Im under obligation to them because of my obligation to God. God did something for me, God did something in me, God commanded something to me, which puts me in obligation to everyone. God did something for me. He sent His Son to die in my place, and He redeemed me from my sin. God did something in me. He united me to His Son so that now my heart is His Sons heart. I want to think the way His Son thinks, I want to live the way His Son lives, I want to do the things His Son wanted do, and what did His Son want to do? The will of the Father. And what is the will of the Father? That all the nations will come and worship His Son. And so now I have the heart of His Son. I want to see the nations worshipping Jesus Christ, and furthermore, Jesus has told me to go to all the nations. In fact, He came and met me on the road to Damascus, and He said, "Paul dont kill Christians, make them."
And so the apostle Paul is saying look, I am under obligation, Im under obligation to everyone. I want you to notice that Paul is not discouraged by that obligation at all. Paul feels no burden about that obligation. Paul isnt grudging about that. This is the most exciting thing that Paul could ever, ever think of that God has given him an obligation to share the gospel because Paul was a Christian killer. Paul had been murdering Christians, or at least aiding and abetting their murder. He had been doing his best to stamp out the church. And now God says Paul, heres your new obligation. Once upon a time, you hated Christians. Now youre going to love them. Once upon a time you tried to extinguish the church. Now youre going to expand it. Once upon a time you were an enemy of Christ. Now you are going to become His apostle. And you know what? Paul was overwhelmed that God would give a sinner like him that kind of an obligation. Paul delighted in that obligation because of his union with Christ, because of Christs atoning death, because of Christs great commission. He is now obligated to go take the gospel to the Greeks and the non-Greeks. And I want you to see that juxtaposition.
Its strange because we dont think of duty and obligation in those terms. We hear duty, we hear ought, we hear obligation, and we immediately kind of cringe and say oo-oo-oo. Thats kind of authoritarian, isnt it? There are a lot of people that will say, now when you become a Christian you dont have to do anything. Its just that you want to. You dont have to obey the commands, you just want to. Thats wrong. Paul here says hes under obligation. Does a husband have to love his wife? Yes. I hope he wants to, but he has to. Does a parent have to love his child? Yes, I hope they want to, but they have to. You see obligations dont change when we become Christians. Gods commands are still there, but our hearts do, and those obligations cease to be burdensome. Look at verse 15. He says hes eager to do this. Hes obligated to do it. But hes eager to do it. I want you to see theres no fundamental antithesis, theres no contradiction between obligation and desire, obligation and eagerness to do it. Pauls willing, but its a command. He has to, but he wants to. You know, its kind of like a junior exec. Hes sitting in his office, its early afternoon, hes working on some accounts, hes really kind of bored by the work that hes working on. His boss comes down the hall, and he says, "Feanster, weve got a guy coming in who can offer us a $5,000,000 contract, and I want you to do this. I want you to go out with Mr. A over there who is one of the senior partners in the firm. And I want you to head out to the country club, and I want you to play a round of golf with this guy." Now Feanster happens to love golf. And in fact, while he was diddling away there on that particular contract work, he was thinking about golf. Now is he happy about going out to play golf with a potential contract person? Yes, hes thrilled, hes willing. Does he have to? Oh yes, he does. His boss told him he was. He has to, but he wants to. Now look, thats a silly illustration, but all it shows you that have to and want to are not necessarily contradictory.
And in the Christian life we find that out. Some of you have been through things that you never would have chosen for yourself. Youve been through situations in your family that you never, ever would have chosen for yourself. And yet God has been gracious to you and some of you who have been through those things have seen how those difficulties have been used in the life of another believer. Do you have to minister to those other believers? Yes, you do. But do you want to when Gods grace has been sweetly ministered to you in a difficult situation? Think of the situation of childlessness. Who in the world would ask for childlessness upon themselves. And yet it may be that God, in His unspeakable grace, has born you through that particular struggle, and He has enabled you to be a blessing to another Christian couple for whom that struggle has just dawned upon their hearts. Do you have to minister to them as a brother and sister? Paul says you do. Do you want to more than anything in the world? In the Christian life, its not that there are no obligations, its just that none of those obligations are burdensome, because our hearts have been transformed and Paul says look, Im under obligation to everyone, and I love it. Im eager to do it. Is that the way you approach your obligations to your brothers and sisters in Christ.
V. Paul wants to preach the gospel for edification and
Has God changed your heart in that way? Then let us devote ourselves to ministering to one another, to abandoning ourselves, and giving ourselves in selfless service and the commands of God are not burdensome. Lets pray.
Our Lord and our God, by the grace of Your Holy Spirit, work this kind of spirit of service in us; through Your gospel mercies we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.